Character Analysis in Jane Eyre
The protagonist and eponymous character, Jane Eyre, narrates the story, and it is through her eyes that we understand the other characters. As was typical with Victorian novels, there are dozens of periphery characters but only a few central figures, all of whom are tied together by Edward Fairfax Rochester. Referred to primarily as Mr. Rochester, he is the novel’s unconventional hero, in the Byronic mold, and classic literature’s original tall, dark, and brooding love interest. He’s a mysterious figure, and as the novel progresses more of the secrets of his past are revealed. Themes of mental illness persist throughout the text, and the portrayal of mentally-ill characters highlights the stigma associated with mental disorders during this time.
Jane, an orphan, is entirely dependent on her Aunt Reed; otherwise, she would probably live in a poor house. Jane's cousins (especially John) relish every opportunity to abuse her, and her helplessness is frequently and cruelly emphasized.
Notice how, from a young age, Jane is attuned to differences in social class and the hierarchies present in her own home. John ridicules her about her lower social status, and Jane’s comparison stresses the corruption of the upper and ruling classes. Jane’s awareness of her status in society is significant as it influences how she conducts herself in different situations.
Brontë references a scene from the previous chapter where Jane compared John to a “slave driver.” Referring to herself as a “rebel slave,” Jane simultaneously acknowledges and defies her lower social position. Jane’s perseverance and strength in overcoming obstacles are defining aspects of her character.
Notice how, as a child, Jane rejects a lower, working-class lifestyle, thinking it is shameful to be impoverished. As the novel progresses and Jane interacts with the moral and immoral from all social classes, she will not be so quick to judge others based on their social standing.
Jane demonstrates her characteristic inner strength here, especially her bluntness and refusal to tolerate hypocrisy. Mrs. Reed has decided to banish Jane because of "wickedness," which she believes can be cured in the unforgiving, harsh environment of a boarding school (Lowood, specifically). Jane, however, refuses to ignore her aunt's hypocrisy any further; she exposes Mrs. Reed's abusiveness and insists that she is "deceitful" for accusing Jane of wickedness.
This character, later introduced as Helen Burns, becomes a highly influential figure in Jane’s life. While many characters claim to be devout, she represents a truly good Christian, one who doesn’t simply preach doctrine but actually lives it. Helen, who refuses to hate others and turns the other cheek, teaches the hotheaded and vengeful Jane how to forgive. In her adult years, Jane lives by Helen’s example and keeps an open mind about others.
In the Bible, Felix was the Roman governor of Judea who delayed the Apostle Paul’s trial for two years. Although Jane is knowledgeable enough about the Bible’s teachings to refer to them, she is hesitant to completely accept its teachings. She is still wary of religion, and much of the novel is about her search for what it truly means to be a good Christian.
Helen has been characterized as the ideal Christian, but it is not until this point that her physical appearance matches her internal piety. Notice how she has developed into a Christ-like figure, as who she represents will be relevant to her relationship with Jane later in the novel.
Julius Caesar famously crossed the Rubicon (a river), initiating a civil war. Passing the Rubicon is understood as passing the point of no return. Up to this point, Jane has been hesitant to commit to her situation or her beliefs, as shown by her fascination with birds and her identification with Felix. Her confrontation with Brocklehurst is imminent, and the idea of a fixed event that she cannot turn back or escape from terrifies her.
This is an allusion to Greek mythology. The goddess Hebe served nectar as wine for the gods and ambrosia was their food. Jane’s comparison of their small morsel of cake to food for the gods shows both how hungry the children are, but it also shows how appreciative Jane is of a simple act of kindness; Jane isn’t greedy or demanding.
Jane, who has lived at Lowood for eight years, no longer has financial support from Mrs. Reed. Her favorite teacher, Miss Temple, has left the school, so Jane sees little reason to stay. She must find work ("a new servitude") because she has no inheritance, but there were few respectable professions for women in 19th-century England.
Notice how Bessie describes Jane’s uncle as a somewhat upper-class “gentleman.” It is unclear if he is indeed upper class, which complicates Jane’s own status. This ambiguity will be significant to Jane’s interactions with people who are clearly upper class later in the novel.
It should be noted that working, and even advertising in the paper, was only considered fit for lower-class women. Jane seeking work suggests that she considers herself a working-class woman despite her affluent childhood and education.
Throughout her childhood, Jane has relied on books to help her escape from her own life and live vicariously through fictional characters. Because Thornfield appears so grand and new, Jane associates it with fiction because she has not experienced much of life except through books.
The fact that Jane has never exhibited any genuine interest in religion makes this an important element of the scene, marking a significant shift in her belief system. She is not attributing her lifestyle change to her own autonomous actions, but rather to God, whom she has never regarded as helpful before.
Since Jane works for a living, many would consider her to be lower class. She expects to be treated badly because her view of herself is influenced by what she perceives others may think of her. Jane will frequently adjust her actions according to the social class she was hired into.
Jane directly addresses society's unenlightened views on female accomplishments and education. Respectable women were discouraged from learning (beyond learning how to copy pictures, embroider, play the piano, sing, and dance) and working. When Jane refers to action, she means mental activity as well as the activity inherent in pursuing a profession (like being a governess).
"Raiment" is an archaic term that refers to clothing. Jane is underdressed for her occupation, and this sort of discrepancy between Jane’s appearance and her identity occurs throughout the novel. Jane’s small stature and plain dress often lead others to misjudge her.
Latmos (Latmus) is a mountain in modern-day Turkey, with significance in Greek mythology as the resting place of Endymion. Jane is the perpetual dreamer, always wanting to be in any location but her current one. Her drawings are a, perhaps subconscious, projection of this desire.
Note how Rochester uses more fairy-tale imagery to describe Jane’s drawings. Jane is a talented artist, and the subjects of her drawings are rather dark and complicated. This contrasts with Jane’s unassuming appearance. She continues to reveal surprising qualities or talents as the novel progresses.
This refers to the rings made by witches or fairies when they cast spells or charms. Rochester speaks to Jane as if she is some mythical being from a fairy tale, and he does not immediately understand her; she is something of an enigma.
The Sphinx is a mythological beast known for killing anyone who cannot answer its riddle. Rochester’s simile suggests that he has an inflated ego and thinks very highly of himself. There is some discrepancy, though, between how Rochester regards himself and what Jane thinks of him—and she lets him know. Jane feels she can be more honest with him than she has with others in the past.
Jane may be Rochester’s employee, but he perceives Jane to be intellectually equal to him. Jane and Rochester have many conversations, similar to this one, where they challenge each other’s wit. Their mutual respect is an important foundation for their relationship, as it will allow them to look past their class and gender differences.
Notice how Rochester interacts with Jane. He has an air of superiority and seemingly goes out of his way to patronize her. Jane notes his arrogance, but refrains from revealing what she thinks. After her experiences with Mrs. Reed and Mr. Brocklehurst, Jane has learned to hold her tongue so as not to be further punished. Jane’s hesitancy to speak her mind will later lead to miscommunication.
This is the second incidence of Jane helping Rochester. Much of their relationship is built on Rochester’s reliance on Jane; her gender and social status do not inhibit her from being a figure Rochester can depend on. Notice, however, how Jane does not feel any need for reparations. She is simply concerned with doing what is right and does not ask for recognition, a virtue she learned from Helen Burns.
“Apollo Belvidere” is a classical Greek statue sculpted from marble that epitomized the ideals of aesthetic perfection. Note how Rochester has been described in the story thus far: He is not particularly handsome according to society’s standards of beauty, but Jane is willing to look past his rough exterior. For this reason, many critics compare Jane Eyre to Beauty and the Beast, adding another fairy tale element to the story.
This Latin phrase roughly translates to “will-o’-the-wisp,” referring to something that is deceptive or deluding. Jane compares it to loving Rochester, who is outside of her social class and her employer. Victorian societal norms would not deem them a good marital match, so she believes loving him would only be a waste of time. She cannot imagine marrying Rochester, so she tries to remain rational, renouncing her true feelings.
This phrase has many possible interpretations. It may simply be nonsense invented when the Ingrams were children; however, an archaic meaning for “pip” is “ill humored,” which could also be a possibility based on their opinion of Mr. Vining. “Pip” also suggests something insignificant or small. Whatever the meaning, it shows the Ingrams’ lack of respect for those from lower social classes.
Notice how Blanche uses physiognomy as justification for her class snobbery. Jane does not have any sinister motives like Blanche, but Jane is just more attuned to matters of appearance after being overlooked throughout her life.
This sentence structure is similar to a sentence at the beginning of the chapter: “He is not of your order.” Jane is beginning to change her mind about her relationship with Rochester, entertaining the idea of becoming romantically involved with him despite their class differences. She feels she is more appreciative of his intellect than those of his own social class.
Bridewell was formerly a prison in London as well as a slang term for any police station or prison. This scene may suggest that Rochester feels imprisoned by some dark secrets he may be harboring.
Jane’s choice of words here reveals what she thinks about Rochester and Blanche Ingram’s relationship. “[P]antomime” works as a sort of double entendre. The party is playing charades, but she also believes that their good relationship is only a performance, mere pretend. They only have give the appearance of being a good couple because of their social standing when it is really Jane who would be a better match for Rochester.
By disguising himself, Rochester hoped to eliminate the class and gender distinctions between him and Jane. It’s been established, however, that Jane does not take kindly to being deceived. Jane did not need to be tricked into seeing Rochester and her as equals because she already believes they are despite their differences.
Carthage is an ancient city located along Africa’s northern shore, now the capital of modern day Tunisia. Jane assumes Rochester is talking about Blanche Ingram, but note how his description only vaguely resembles Blanche. Blanche has an “olive complexion” and “dark features”, but she definitely doesn’t look to be of African descent, making Rochester’s statement suspicious.
Jane Eyre is often described as a Bildungsroman, a coming-of-age story. The protagonist’s psychological and moral growth is a defining characteristic of this literary genre. Jane is a model Bildungsroman character as she learns and matures over the course of the novel, “ever shifting” and never at rest.
Queen Boadicea was the queen of a British Celtic tribe that led an uprising against the Roman Empire. Interest in her was revived in England’s Victorian Era as Queen Victoria was seen as her namesake (their names share the same meaning). This allusion sets up Rochester’s future wife as a strong-willed and rebellious character; traits which aren’t apparent in his supposed wife-to-be, Blanche Ingram.
Brontë repeats words and phrases to link characters. In Chapter XVI, Jane described her love for Rochester as “ignis fatuus-like,” as she believed the possibility of marrying him was only an illusion. Here, Rochester compares Jane to an ignis fatuus, assuring her that he would pursue the ephemeral substance despite the possibility of not obtaining it. Rochester uses the term in a different context than Jane, making him somewhat of a foil for her. She is much more practical about the prospects of their relationship than he is.
Notice how Jane prefaces “passion” with “something like,” revealing her fear of making a concrete statement about any feelings she has concerning Rochester. Up until this point, she has been very restrained in her interactions with Rochester, minding proper social protocol and carefully choosing when to let on how she truly feels. This is one of the few times in the novel when Jane is more open about her feelings with other characters, not just the reader.
This is a funny little quip from Rochester, but notice how the imagery is somewhat macabre. Rochester pairs a symbol of restraint and death with marriage. His reluctance to get married would not be unusual if he wasn’t so morbid about it, making him seem oddly suspicious.
This chapter is full of allusions to the Middle East, and Jane’s distaste for them suggests a very imperial mindset. It was a common belief at the time that those in the British Empire were far superior to those who weren’t, and Jane is a product of her times. The British assumed a paternalistic stance in relation to their colonies and trade partners, believing themselves to be good moral and intellectual influences. Jane doesn’t like Rochester’s allusions because they compare their relationship to people she believes are beneath her.
The Persian King Ahasuerus is a figure from the Hebrew Bible who is often identified as Xerxes I. He offered his Jewish wife, Esther, half of his kingdom, but she was only asked that her people be spared from Haman, a vizier plotting to kill all Persian Jews. By comparing Rochester to King Ahasuerus, Jane assumes the role of Esther. She is not interested in Rochester for his material wealth, but his good nature, his morality.
This is a quote from Shakespeare’s King John. It’s often misquoted as “gild the lily,” which has become an idiom that refers to an unnecessary attempt to improve something that does not need improvement. Rochester professes he loves Jane for who she is and does not believe there is any way to improve her. He does not believe outward appearances, however beautiful and gilded, are indicative of one’s true nature.
The “year and a day” rule is commonly associated with the pagan custom of “handfasting.” It is like a trial marriage where couples would enter a union for a year and a day. After that period, they could decide to split up or enter a more permanent marriage. Rochester referring to a non-Christian ritual is suspicious and matches the already sinister and mysterious tone of the paragraph. Whoever or whatever he is hiding in the attic is unholy or otherwise malevolent, contrasting against Jane’s Christian values.
Jane's description of marriage differs from Rochester's. In Chapter XXIII, he called marriage the “sacred noose,” an ending to life. Here, Jane indicates that she views her marriage as a type of renaissance, a beginning of a new life as a new person. In addition, Jane's view also suggests her fear of losing her sense of identity through marriage. Even though she is excited to begin this new part of her life, she fears she will become a typical Victorian wife and lose her independence.
This is an allusion to the Plagues of Egypt in Exodus where the God of Israel inflicted calamities upon Egypt to convince the pharaoh to release the enslaved Israelites. This story is told to support God’s absolute power, and Jane’s reference indicates that she feels all hope is lost, that there is no fighting the powers working against her happy marriage with Rochester.
Scholars speculate that Bertha Mason may have contracted syphilis, which characterizes her as sexually promiscuous. Black women, including Creole women, have long been stereotyped as being either hyper-sexual or otherwise sexually deviant, and Jane Eyre perpetuates this. If Bertha does have syphilis, it would go against the religious and extremely conservative Victorian society. Rochester’s own behavior is also brought into question, and he is just as much at fault as she.
Jane references something that is beyond the physical world again, but the tone is not as dark here. She has access to a “peace” that transcends human understanding,but does not seek to explain it the way St. John does. As she has continually shown, Jane is not caught up in arbitrary details, but she is focused on the greater effects and the bigger picture.
Calvinism is a stricter form of Protestantism than Jane’s Evangelicalism because it emphasizes the word of God above all else. Jane is lax about her religious beliefs, merely seeking to live a good life rather than follow specific principles. Though they can bond over religion, the differences in how devout Jane and St. John are have the potential to cause friction between them.
A peri is a Persian mythological creature, similar to a fairy and known for its beauty. Peris can either be benevolent or agents of evil. Rochester often referred to Jane as a sort of sprite or fairy, but Rosamond and Jane are not necessarily similar characters. Jane calls Rosamond a “peri” because of its potential for evil, which is directly linked to Rosamond’s beauty that Jane had just described in great detail.
The 5th of November is known as Guy Fawkes Day. In Chapter 3, one of the maids at Gateshead likened Jane to an “infantine Guy Fawkes” for her rebellious behavior. As this Bildungsroman nears its end, this serves as a small reminder of Jane’s troubled beginnings and how much she’s grown over the course of the novel. Once hot-tempered and living in poor conditions, Jane is now more level-headed, independent, and has a space to call her own.
Brontë develops St. John as a foil for Rochester. Jane describes Rochester as having a “dark face” with a “heavy brow,” and he is often described as being full of “passion.” His brooding nature exudes a dark warmth that Jane is drawn to. St. John, on the other hand, is icy and “cool” like a “glacier.” Also note how Jane often described Rochester as being ugly, and just as often comments on St. John’s handsomeness. The contrast between them allows Rochester to emerge as the clear choice for Jane.
Jane views St. John as an authority figure, both because he is the male head of the household and because he is commanding, cold, and distant. However, Jane is a woman of extremes: she either "faithfully" submits to the orders of another or revolts with "volcanic vehemence"—usually after putting up with an overbearing, arrogant person (like Mrs. Reed or St. John) for some time.
Compare this description of St. John with Jane's earlier description of Mr. Brocklehurst as a “black pillar.” Both men represent one aspect of religion: one malevolent and the other benevolent. In addition, these men are associated with solid masses of cold stone or marble, suggesting their lack of emotion and affection. Their way of practicing religion contrasts with Jane’s, who does not follow the Bible so closely.
In this passage, St. John reads a specific passage of the Bible to guilt Jane into marrying him and traveling to India. St. John is similar to Brocklehurst in this way--using religion as a way to get what they want, rather than simply following it to lead a good life.
Jane, who was always Mr. Rochester's social inferior, feels comfortable marrying him now because he is dependent. His physical disability feminizes him, leveling the playing field so Jane is his equal. Female autonomy is subtly addressed, here; Jane, who has spent the entirety of the novel pursuing liberty, learns that an autonomous life is not one without obligation. Instead, freedom comes from choosing one's obligations.
Note how in these last couple of chapters, the tone is heavily religious even within the context of the novel’s many Biblical allusions. The fire at Thornfield that gave Rochester so many injuries caused him to be reborn--like a phoenix from the ashes. He turns to religion as a sort of born-again Christian, which allows him and Jane to share a spiritual connection.